Key to the Stó:lō Writing System
for Halq'eméylem Used in This Website

Halq'eméylem was traditionally an oral language, having no written form. Work in the 1970s and 1980s by Stó:lō Elders at the Coqualeetza Cultural Center and Brent Galloway (a linguist who was then with University of California, Berkeley) has produced a standardized "orthography," or way of writing the language as it is heard.

This orthography is used throughout this website.

Brent Galloway published an excellent discussion of the orthography and the pronunciation of Halq'eméylem sounds in his short article "The Significance of the Halkomelem Language Material." This is reproduced and slightly summarized here.

The vowels in Halq'eméylem are:

as in English fat, bat (when under ´ or ` or before w or y) or as in English "sell" or "bet" (elsewhere).

as in English sill, bill (when between palatal sounds l, lh, x, y, s, ts, ts', k, k') or as in English "pull" or "bull" (when between labialized sounds m, w, kw, kw', qw, qw', xw, xw) or as in English "mutt", "what" (elsewhere).

as in English "antique", "beet", "eel."

in English "pot", "mop", "father", "brother."

as in English "no", "go", "crow."

as in English "Sue", "soon", "moon", "flu."

Most vowels can be followed by [y] or [w] in the same syllable:

as in English "cow."

rare in English, some have it in "sang."

as in Canadian English "about."

as in English "bait."

as in English "peewee" minus the last "ee."

as in English "beet."

as in English "ah well" minus the last "ell."

as in English "bite."

as in English "bowl."

´ or `
Almost all Halq'eméylem words have at least one stressed vowel (like á or à or ´ı for example). Some words have several stressed vowels. The stress marks are needed to tell which part of the word is said louder and higher. Without this a speaker will have a foreign accent or say the wrong word. Stress (´ or ` does not change the pronunciation of a vowel (qwá:l "mosquito" and qwà:l "talk" both rhyme with English "pal"). Stress means the vowel is pronounced fairly loud and with a higher melody than if the vowel was unstressed. High stress (shown by ´ over a vowel) has the highest pitch, about four notes above a vowel without a stress mark. Mid stress (shown by ` over a vowel) has a medium pitch, about two notes above a vowel without stress.

means that the sound before the colon is prolonged or dragged out twice as long as a sound without a following colon.

The only consonants which are pronounced like those in English are:

as in English "pill" and "spin."

as in English "tick" and "stand."

as in English "church."

as in English "rats."

as in English "king" and "skill."

as in English "inkwell" and "queen."

as in English "thin" (but not voiced as in "this" or "the").

as in English "shine."

as in English "sill."

as in English "hat."

as in English "man" and "bottom."

as in English "land" and "camels."

y as in English "yes" and "say."

as in English "wood" and "how."

This leaves eighteen sounds, most of which do not even occur in English.

made by raising the very back of the tongue to touch the soft palate

made just like the q but with rounded lips

There are ten consonants written with an apostrophe: ch', k', kw', p', q', qw', t', th', ts', tl'. These are popped or glottalized consonants. Th occurs in English width and breadth.

glottal stop. It is found in a few words in English like, "mutton" or "button" or Cockney English "bottle" (spelled with "tt") or beginning each "uh" in "uh-uh" (the sound meaning "no") or the sound beginning "earns" in "Mary earns" when pronounced differently from "Mary yearns."

made by putting your tongue in position to say an "l" but then blowing air (like an "h") around the sides of the tongue. This sound may be heard in English after "k" sound in a few words like "clean" (klhin) or "clear" or "climb."

There are four blown x sounds. These sounds are made by raising the tongue to narrow the passage of air till you hear the friction of the air.

made with the middle of the tongue raised roughly in the same place is it is put to make a y as in "yawn." But instead of using your voice you just blow air and it produces a friction sound between the middle of the tongue and the front of the hard palate. English has this sound first in "Hugh" or "hew."

made with the tongue raised a little further back, by the middle off the hard palate (roof of the mouth), but it also requires rounded lips. It sounds a lot like wh in some words in English but with more friction on the roof of the mouth.

made still further back, in fact with the back of the tongue raised close to the soft palate (where the q is made). German has this sound in "ach" for example, and Scottish has it in "lock" meaning "lake."

made in the same back place as x but is also made with round lips. It is like a blown qw while x is like a blown q.

Extracted from "Key to the Stó:lō Writing System for Halq'eméylem", in Keith Thor Carlson (ed.), You Are Asked to Witness: The Stó:lō in Canada's Pacific Coast History (Chilliwack, BC: Stó:lō Heritage Trust, 1997), v–vi.